Belly Flops Make a Splash – Virginia Attacks on School Quality Gain National Attention

by James C. Sherlock

Why is this man smiling?

The Wall Street Journal featured an op-ed today, the first four words of which were “Attorney General Mark Herring.” No picture of the AG, so I offer one here, but they spelled his name right. so perhaps it will be Senator Herring or President Herring one day soon.

Unfortunately, the next words after his title and name were: 

“has fired the latest salvo in America’s assault on meritocracy: a 61-page opinion holding that the suburban Loudoun County school system discriminated against black and Hispanic youngsters because its selective-admission high school, the Academies of Loudon, hadn’t admitted enough of them. Never mind that—as Mr. Herring acknowledged—the school’s test-based admissions process is open to all and fairly managed. Because its results have a “disparate impact,” the school system must scrap it.”

The piece went on to describe for a national audience what Bacons Rebellion has been pointing out to Virginia readers. Selective admission schools are under attack for, well, being selective. Using tests to determine admissions does not result in student bodies that match the general demographics. It’s what the woke left calls the “Asian problem.” Asian students study too hard and have supportive parents.

The essay tracks the arc of this assault on excellence. It started in New York City.  Admission to nine of the city’s 393 public high schools is by test. Mayor DeBlasio and his schools chancellor 

“want to reserve places for black and Latino children, abolish the entry exam, and instead admit top students from every middle school in the city.  But is every middle school churning out eighth-graders with the requisite skills and knowledge to succeed at Bronx Science? Are all children who make good grades eager, motivated learners ready to make the most of what these high-powered schools have to offer?”.

Of course, to make that work or even pretend to do so would require fixing the utterly broken public middle and elementary schools that are not charters. The four keys for fixing them can be found in the charters themselves:

  • ensuring student discipline in the classroom to provide a learning environment; 
  • soliciting parental support; 
  • close monitoring of teacher skill, discipline, training and pedagogy by school leadership to ensure effectiveness; and 
  • challenging and rich curricula.

Those of course are anathema to the teacher’s unions, and thus to DeBlasio.  

From there the arc goes straight to Virginia. Having led with Herring’s manifesto, the author goes to the story of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, a tale fully told in this space.

The author also discusses the national achievement gaps and their implications for advanced high school programs.

Achievement gaps are widespread across America among kids from different backgrounds. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 13% of white eighth-grade students reached the “advanced” level in math last year, as did 31% of Asian kids, compared with only 2% and 4% of black and Hispanic children. Students who aren’t doing advanced math by the end of middle school aren’t likely to succeed in selective-entry high schools. But tackling that problem by abolishing tests and randomizing admission forfeits excellence in favor of fake equity.

One answer is building gifted programs in every elementary and middle school.  But:

School systems would also have to face the reality that some kids are smarter and more motivated than others, no matter their color. That’s anathema to “progressive” reformers, who prefer to abolish accelerated classes for high achievers. Ithaca, N.Y., is one of several communities that has moved to make all sixth- and seventh-graders take the same math, no matter how adept some are.

Finally:

The progressive assault on education in the name of equity ends up denying smart kids from every background the kind of education that will assist them to make the most of their abilities. That denies America human capital for a robust economy, while keeping a fraught society from producing the opportunities that allow true equity to flourish.

For those of our readers that thought Virginia was a follower in left-wing education policy, you can now see that we are national “leaders,” a national embarrassment and a mortal threat to Virginia kids and their schools.

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41 responses to “Belly Flops Make a Splash – Virginia Attacks on School Quality Gain National Attention

  1. How is not getting into a fancy high school a mortal threat?

  2. A WSJ “opinion”. Oh goodie!

    that’s almost like hard news, right?

    😉

    • It celebrates Virginia in a way Larry. No excellence allowed is part of the CRT dogma.

      • I don’t see the Governors schools going anyway. In fact, your wonderful Success Academies also use lotteries, no?

        “CRT” is more culture war catnip for the right.

        Funny as hell… teachers are evil leftists but they need to be teaching our kids…or else they’re even more evil?

        • Not about teachers, Larry, its about policy makers.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Actually, it is about racism, a Virginia Attorney General who uses race baiting to stay in and aggregate more political power.

        • Have you been following at all?

          The lotteries to get into Success Academy schools are for grades K-4. The vast majority of the applicants are for K and first grade.

          Success Academies need a chance to teach them before they are so far behind they can’t catch up. Every year there are four – six times as many parents who apply as are selected by the lottery for the seats available.

          On the other hand, by the time kids apply for a selective high school, they are either ready for the advanced academics or they truly have no chance. That has led the “abolish the test” crowd to also demand “abolish the advanced academics”.

          Then every kid gets a trophy.

    • That’s all you can do in response, Larry? Attack the messenger? Really? Go home.

  3. Progressives have taken a wrecking ball to the public education system. I have not read of any comparable movement in European or Asian countries. We are experiencing a real-world test of educational philosophies.

    In 2019, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) conducted its triennial test of 15-year-olds. The U.S. ranked 38th among 79 countries for math, 19th for science, and 14th for reading.

    The next tests are scheduled for 2022. The results will be revealing.

    • As you said earlier, this is the biggest story of the past 10 years. It is finally getting more national attention. New York and Virginia – hardly ever see those two states in the same sentence – are in the vanguard. Lucky us.

      • Competence is being outlawed in Virginia as a standard and goal of education in Virginia, replaced instead with racist privilege.

        Why?

        Because Virginia Democrats believe they need the votes of certain “people of color” to win elections and stay in power. So they institute plainly racist policies to maintain and enlarge their own power, and enforce these policies by bogus laws twisted out of shape by their Attorney General to maintain power. Does this sound familiar?

    • Jim – did you know that PISA includes private schools?

  4. There is a certain conceit here–the students who get into Thomas Jefferson and other “selective” schools are brighter and better, hence they deserve to get in. They have proved worthy of being selective.

    At TJ, the first cut is based on a standardized test. And numerous research has shown that kids from Black, Hispanic, and poor white families are not as good at taking standardized tests as those from more other demographic groups.

    And, here is the dirty little secret: Those kids that get into TJ have parents that are willing to spend a lot of money to help them get in. They buy houses in McLean and Herndon (high-priced areas) near schools that have reputations for their kids being accepted. They send their kids to afterschool academies so they can prep for the entrance exam. Some of these kids go to these schools as early as the third grade. As a consequence, there is a well-known “test-prep” industry in the Washington area.

    So, the kids that get into TJ and Loudoun Academy may be bright, but they have a big advantage that their bright Black and Hispanic counterparts don’t have–rich parents.

    https://www.washingtonian.com/2017/04/26/is-the-no-1-high-school-in-america-thomas-jefferson-fairfax-discrimination/

    https://nyclearn.com/thomas-jefferson-high-school/

    • No, Dick you don’t understand…it’s all about parents valuing their kids education and if those poor parents really cared about their kid’s education they would have made themselves rich so they could afford the test prep. But they decided to be poor instead.

      And this also doesn’t being to address the idea that human beings have some weird shut off for skill integration that happens at ninth grade when many of them still haven’t entered puberty even though the human brain remains highly plastic until about age 25.

      • Thank you for those clarifications.

      • How would you answer Vern Williams?

        • If I understand Mr. Williams’ position correctly, I don’t have any problem with it. He proposed to “create a test that is prep proof (I could easily help with that) and truly test the higher level thinking skills needed for many of the advanced math and science concepts encountered at TJ. Keep the teacher recommendation as part of the process since middle school teachers truly know the capabilities, interests, and passions of their students” and “create a quality information/activities piece where students are asked to describe their successes as well as how they reacted to setbacks.”

          According to the Washingtonian article I linked to, something like this was tried earlier and rejected by parents (presumably the ones whose children are favored by the first round standardized test).

          “Finally, in 2004, the board hired experts to examine TJ’s admissions process. The panel’s report found that “flaws in the process disproportionately reduce the chances of admission for African American and Hispanic students.” It proposed reading a student’s entire application, including essays and teacher recommendations, in the first round.

          Perhaps unsurprisingly, when the board held hearings on the proposal the following summer, parents once again complained—some about how quickly the changes would be implemented, others that subjective criteria could hurt Asian students who might not be as proficient in English. By September 2004, the proposal was dead.”

          • But once again, the problem (in 2004 and now) is alleged to be the admissions test is alleged to be such that kids taking prep courses have an advantage. So if Mr. Williams can develop a test that eliminates this advantage, something that puts kids from lower income families and who have math aptitude at the same place as kids whose families sent them to prep courses, doesn’t that allow for the use of an admissions test as the first screening factor? No one has argued that other factors, including recommendations, have no place in the process. But elimination of an objective test makes the admissions process subjective. Do we really want sleazy bureaucrats making admission decisions based on their political views?

          • Dick Hall-Sizemore

            If he can develop such a test, and, since I have no expertise in the area, I take him at his word that he can do it, the school board should take him seriously and let him develop something for them to consider.

            I like his other suggested changes, as well.

          • Sorry, when you characterize all school officials as “sleazy burecrats” your bias is showing.

            Why should I believe anything you are saying if you seem biased from the start?

          • I agree on the premise but am skeptical because I’d like to know more about what he would measure if not the knowledge gained from prep.

            What exactly would you test a kid on if not academic knowledge? IQ? And if you just measured on that – what about the foundation courses needed for upper-level courses?

            It’s sorta like saying someone can get into college without having gone through k-12.

            Keep in mind that “prepping” is not a single activity done once. It’s sometimes years of additional tutoring that some can afford and are willing to pay to set their kids up for college.

            Folks that don’t have the money and even if they did , but don’t have college themselves will not necessarily see that money as well spent,

            College-educated folks have no doubt – they know.

          • James Wyatt Whitehead V

            There is no such thing as a prep proof test.

          • Thank you, Mr. Whitehead. I was waiting for a recent teacher to make this point.

            The “prep proof test” notion is a red herring, but lets some in the left believe that there can be no such thing as inequality that is not based in racism, but rather in nature and nurture.

            If nature weren’t in play, we’d have no special ed and IEPs. If nurture did not play a part in the outcome, then Success Academy could not post the results it does.

    • Dick, I posted this earlier but it deserves revisiting. Retired FCPS middle school math teacher Vern Williams, who now teaches at the Basis Independent School in Tysons, wrote the following.

      “My Take on the Proposed TJ Admissions Process

      “Many have asked for my take on the proposed changes to the Thomas Jefferson High School admissions process. Once one goes down the road of politically protecting groups based on race or ethnicity it leads to very strange and contradictory circumstances. The nation’s number one high school somehow needs to be fixed because current politically protected minorities are not adequately represented in the student body. Ironically the wrong (politically unprotected) minorities claim over 70% of the seats at TJ. Over the last few weeks they have been demonized by the superintendent, the Thomas Jefferson Principal, and the majority of members on the Fairfax County School Board.

      “During my forty-plus years as an FCPS teacher I always made clear that I would never view my students through a racial or cultural lens. I am part of the old school crowd who still believes, as did Martin Luther King, that one should be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. The ‘One Fairfax’ doctrine seems to suggest the opposite view. I sense that changing the TJ Admissions process is only the beginning. Every program for advanced/gifted students ranging from AP participation to AAP will be viewed through a racial lens instead of an academic/readiness lens. I feel that they will be diluted to the point of non-existence.

      “So what should be done to improve the admissions process instead of destroying it? Create a test that is prep proof (I could easily help with that) and truly test the higher level thinking skills needed for many of the advanced math and science concepts encountered at TJ. Keep the teacher recommendation as part of the process since middle school teachers truly know the capabilities, interests, and passions of their students. To suggest that they might show bias (as has been alleged by some) in their recommendations is an insult to every FCPS middle school teacher. Create a quality information/activities piece where students are asked to describe their successes as well as how they reacted to setbacks. I can discern between students who join Mathcounts or Science Olympiad in order to pad their resumes and those who join because they genuinely love math and science. Even if it means conducting interviews, the difference can be determined.

      “There are various groups of students who will apply to TJ. Some will apply simply because they view TJ as a ticket to a top university. Some have very little interest in TJ but will be pushed by their parents to apply. Then there are those who will apply because TJ is the only venue where they will be even remotely intellectually challenged. I have worked with and continue to work with such students. There are seventh and eighth grade students who are able to understand advanced mathematical concepts in some cases at a graduate school level. Some qualify for the USA Math Olympiad contest which involves solving six proof based problems during a nine hour time period. Because it involves qualifying by receiving very high scores on the AMC10/12 and the American Invitational Mathematics Exam, many adults (perhaps most) with strong math backgrounds would not qualify. Students who qualify in middle school continue to pursue similar math competitions and activities when they attend TJ. The superintendent and the school board need to understand that such students indeed exist and need the peer group and intellectual stimulation found at TJ. I’m not sure how many students compose this group but they and other intellectually passionate over qualified students would be forced to rely on the rolling of dice if a lottery is imposed. The good news is that the strongest TJ applicants will not be stopped if they are denied admission to the school. Because of online venues such as AoPS, students will always have a place to be challenged intellectually and to communicate with other passionate learners. But why should we prevent them in any way from attending a special math/science school built for them? Only if other concerns are at play. I suspect that we all know what they are.

      “As for finding potential TJ qualified students from all areas of Northern Virginia, I would be willing to help. Some teachers equate brilliance with putting commas in the correct place in English class and making very few careless errors in math class. I would gladly meet with middle and elementary school teachers throughout Northern Virginia to discuss traits of intellectually gifted students. I would also gladly award scholarships to students from areas such as the Mt. Vernon High School pyramid where there are low numbers of TJ applicants. These scholarships would apply to attending the Math Enrichment summer camp and small group sessions held throughout the school year. I have made similar offers before.”

      So why is FCPS and other school divisions turning to teachers such as Mr. Williams to improve the system and make un-prepable tests? Where is Virginia’s low-skilled Attorney General looking at these type of fixes instead of making race-based discriminations?

      • re: ” Create a test that is prep proof (I could easily help with that) and truly test the higher level thinking skills needed for many of the advanced math and science concepts encountered at TJ. ”

        I like the concept a lot if it could be done but the problem is that parents will spend years on getting their kids “ready” to compete and the kids that did not get that are never going to be competitive.

        I’m not at all opposed to higher level schools for kids who are advanced but the path to those schools needs to be equal opportunity.

        If a kid shows real aptitutde but he’s in a low performing school and his parents cannot afford “prep” then what happens 2-3 years later?

        • Larry, how do you draw your conclusion? We have a 40-year plus math teacher (who happens to be black) saying that he (and probably others) can develop an admissions test such that an applicant cannot improve his /her scores by taking prep classes. Yet, you claim that prepping will work for those kids that take the courses.

          It’s like saying the sun rises in the east and you say what happens if the sun rises in the west.

          The problem has been stated that kids whose parents get them into prep classes will automatically do better than kids whose parents don’t get them into prep classes. So here is a seasoned math teacher who, based on more than 40 years experience teaching kids, says he could easily create an admission test that gives no advantage to kids who took prep courses. Wouldn’t it make sense to try something like this first, rather than allow governments to make decisions based on the race or ethnic background of applicants?

          And one needs to acknowledge that, in order to go to an elite high school focused on math and science, students would need to have strong aptitudes for math and science. Not every 8th grader has the skills and interest to go to TJ.

          • It’s too easy a promise to make. It depends a LOT what you are testing and whether or not it can be prepped for.

            Any kind of standardized test that measures gained ability can be prepped especially if the prepping takes place over several years.

            STILL – if such a test could truly be developed, I WOULD support it but I won’t support the claim that it can be until I see it.

            The point of TJ and others like it actually IS preparation.

            You cannot get to those higher levels without it.

            What I question is why TJ exists only for some kids while other kids who are also well advanced but not at the top – lose out.

            Like College – there should be a minimum cut score that establishes that you are qualified to enroll and if ther are not enough slots for all that are qualified, then a lottery and a bigger question of why such a school is created when it cannot truly serve all qualified kids and it has to use draconian rules to disallow kids who are qualified even if not at the top.

            It’s an elitist concept that does not serve the best interests of all kids who are qualified.

    • What you wrote above can be true and utterly misleading at the same time. Virginia effectively blocks charter schools for the poor because it gives approval authority to the school districts. Your “numerous research has shown” contention about standardized tests is true but the research itself is flawed. That research is only accurate if it excludes the evidence from Success Academies and their like in the charter school community. The research thus exposes poor schools, not flawed tests.

      If Richmond, Petersburg, Danville and other horribly performing Virginia school districts had charter schools dedicated to classroom discipline, parent support, teacher excellence and demanding curricula, they would produce students fully qualified for Governor’s schools who would ace the standardized tests, as do the poorest black and brown kids in NYC who attend charters. Could those districts produce such results for every single student in their schools? No. The success depends on too many things, see above, that cannot be reproduced for every student. That is the left’s quandary. And they get past it by yelling into the wind.

      • I support public charter schools and I have said that in the past. We are not talking about regular charter schools here. TJ and other “selective” schools are designed to admit the children of parents who can afford to get them special, additional preparation.

    • Why isn’t the answer to offer free test prep classes to interested students in all public schools rather than tearing down the meritocratic schools like TJ? Is it because you know as well as I do that it will be the Asian-American parents sending their kids to those test prep classes?

      • That’s a good question and why did they stand-up the academy without also standing up a pathway for students to get there without having to pay for outside private prep?

        Seems like if the school is going to offer a Stem Academy, they also should provide an in-house pathway to get there.

        We agree.

  5. re: ” Here are the key parts of a story by Dana Goldstein, New York Times, June 30, 2020″

    isn’t this older guidance and it was updated:


    The purpose of this guidance revision is to continue to support communities, local leadership in education and public health, and pediatricians collaborating with schools in creating policies for school re-entry during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that foster the overall health of children, adolescents, educators, staff, and communities and are based on available evidence. Along with our colleagues in the field of education, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly advocates for additional federal assistance to schools throughout the United States, with no restrictions regarding their plans for in-person versus virtual learning. Regardless, in places in the United States with high levels of community transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19, where in-person learning is not possible, these schools will also need more assistance, not less, to support the additional staffing needs, alternative learning sites, hybrid educational models, and child care. ”

    https://services.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/clinical-guidance/covid-19-planning-considerations-return-to-in-person-education-in-schools/

  6. But once again, the problem (in 2004 and now) is alleged to be the admissions test is alleged to be such that kids taking prep courses have an advantage. So if Mr. Williams can develop a test that eliminates this advantage, something that puts kids from lower income families and who have math aptitude at the same place as kids whose families sent them to prep courses, doesn’t that allow for the use of an admissions test as the first screening factor? No one has argued that other factors, including recommendations, have no place in the process. But elimination of an objective test makes the admissions process subjective. Do we really want sleazy bureaucrats making admission decisions based on their political views?

    • “Do we really want sleazy bureaucrats making admission decisions based on their political views?”

      Of course that is what progressives want. In the socialist world there are elites, useful idiots and sheep. The goal of the elite is to leverage the useful idiots to shear the sheep. Needless to say, the elite retain all advantage. Fidel Castro died with a net worth of $900M. Terry McAuliffe and Tony Rodham didn’t lose their fortunes over GreenTech. NAH, LLC got a $1.8m contract to remove four statues.

      Once those pesky Asian-Americans with their hard work and study habits are pushed aside there will be plenty of room in “the lottery” for Mark Herring’s kids.

      If there’s one thing the socialist elite hates it’s a meritocracy.

  7. Pingback: Virginia Attacks on LCPS & FCPS Quality Gain National Attention | STOP Critical Race Theory In Loudoun County Schools

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